What is the CPA Exam?

The Uniform Certified Public Accountant Exam is a litmus test designed to protect the public interest, required for licensure as a CPA in the U.S. The CPA exam has four sections: Regulation, Financial Accounting and Reporting, Business Environment and Concepts, and Auditing and Attestation.

Why should I become a CPA?

The CPA credential is considered a symbol of trust and professional achievement in the world of business. CPAs are considered the most trusted advisors in business because of the work and dedication required to earn the title.

Students that pass the CPA exam and maintain the credential typically have a few reasons why they embark on the journey. Let’s face it, you work to earn money, which in return provides an improved quality of life. If you can earn more money for the same hours worked passing the CPA exam, it can be a worthwhile investment of time and money. Many that pass the CPA exam also find they have some additional job security they did not have before.

Licensed Certified Public Accountants need to demonstrate a high level of education, knowledge, and ability in accounting. The letters “CPA” after your name position you as someone who has put in much effort to earn and maintain a professional credential that is highly respected by business decision makers.

Accounting professionals working for a firm (that have passed the four sections of the CPA exam) typically earn 10-15% more than those that have not. Tax firms that employ CPA’s can bill at a higher rate per hour, as a result companies will invest their resources to help employees take and pass the CPA Exam. As the population grows and the global economy expands, the need for accountants also increases too. Companies large and small in all sectors need ethical and responsible accountants to ensure things go smoothly. This means CPA’s have autonomy to work in nearly any industry they want. Increased pay, better job security and the ability to work in almost any industry make becoming a CPA a very attractive and exciting career path!

How much can a CPA make per year?

The average salary for a CPA ranges from approximately $50,000 per year for Accountant to $125,000 per year for Chief Financial Officer.

Click here to see the breakdown of CPA Salaries in the United States.

How do I become a CPA?

Becoming a CPA starts with a college or university education. All jurisdiction, minus the US Virgin Islands, now require 150 credit hours to become licensed. Put another way, this just means you need five years of full-time study. Most aspiring CPA’s get this with a four-year undergraduate degree and one year of graduate study. There are also five-year integrated programs in accounting available; these will qualify you with a Master's degree and the 150 credit hours you need to become a CPA.

Nearly all states have a requirement to include some level of accounting course credits. These can be studied at the undergraduate level, with a Master's in accounting, or an MBA with an accounting concentration. There are states that will allow you to test with an undergraduate education.

You will need to pass the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Exam. This exam is written and scored by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Students from all states and jurisdictions of the United States take the same CPA exam. You are not eligible to take this exam until you have met your state's requirements.

The CPA is a state-issued license and the exact rules vary by state but are often similar. Each state has its own residency requirements that you will want to familiarize yourself with. Some states have a minimum 6-month residency requirement while others allow nonresidents to sit for the exam. View individual state requirements here.

At least one to two years of work experience is required in public accounting to be licensed as a CPA. Some states will accept government or industry experience instead, but they will require this experience to be for a longer period. There is no need to fulfill this experience requirement in order take the CPA exam. However, you will have to complete it to get your license and be permitted to put the letters CPA after your name.

In most states you will also need to take an ethics exam. This exam requires much less study than the CPA exam and usually has a pass rate of over 90%. This is taken before licensure. Many states have a requirement of Continuing Professional Education to keep your knowledge up to date. These requirements vary by state but can amount to 20 to 40 hours per year.

Once you have met all your state's requirements, you can apply for a license from your state board of accountancy. You can view your state board’s contact information here.

Is the CPA Exam Difficult?

The CPA Exam has been around for more than 100 years and gone through many changes as the tax code has been reformed. The purpose of the CPA exam is to protect the public interest. This is done by allowing only those individuals who have demonstrated knowledge and the skills needed to fulfill the CPA position to become licensed as U.S. Certified Public Accountants (CPAs). A test taker is looking at 16 hours of test taking.

We encourage test takers to visit the AICPA.org blueprints information section of the website: Uniform CPA Examination Blueprints. This 101 page document (PDF) approved by the Board of Examiners American Institute of CPAs gets updated annually and helps perspective CPA candidates better understand the CPA exam courses.

In its current form, the CPA Exam has been expanded so that it more closely matches the skills candidates need to practice competently today. According to the AICPA, the CPA exam is designed to test for the following skills deemed necessary for entry-level CPAs:

  • Communication
  • Research
  • Analysis
  • Judgment
  • Understanding

To measure competency the CPA Examination is broken up by four sections that are four hours long each.

  • Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
  • Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)
  • Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
  • Regulation (REG)

Each section is comprised of both Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs) as well as Task-Based simulations (TBSs). Only the Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) will have three written communication questions. These questions are weighted to make up 15% of the BEC grade. For 2017 the BEC and REG sections were increased an hour, making all four sections of the CPA Exam four hours in length.

Each exam section lasts four hours and as with all high-stakes exams, the more you practice and prepare ahead, the less stress you will have in getting your credential.

Passing the CPA exam can be daunting, especially when we consider current and historical pass rate statistics hover around 50%. Passing the CPA exam is difficult but not impossible and Fast Forward Academy has the tools that will help you pass.

Are you ready to get started?

What is on the CPA Exam?

The Fast Forward Academy CPA exam review will prepare you for a CPA exam which is a computer-based test comprised of four sections. The current exam takes 14 hours for all four parts. You may take these in any order you choose as long as all four are completed within 18 months.

Auditing and Attestation (AUD) 4 Hours 72 multiple-choice questions (MCQ) & 8 task-based simulations
Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) 4 Hours 62 MCQs, 4 task-based simulations, & 3 written communications
Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) 4 Hours 66 MCQs & 8 task-based simulations
Regulation (REG) 4 Hours 76 questions & 8 task-based simulations

Types of Questions on the CPA Exam

Multiple-choice questions (MCQs)

Multiple-choice test questions consist of three parts:

  1. The stem: which asks a question, poses a problem, or presents an incomplete sentence
  2. The correct response: (quickly find the correct answer and move on)
  3. Alternative responses which are incorrect: (often called "distractors." Each MCQ contains a question with four options known as alternatives. The alternatives consist of one correct or best alternative, which is the answer, and incorrect or inferior alternatives, known as distractors.)

Task-based simulations (TBSs)

TBSs are questions that force you to create your own response by reviewing information derived from the question or in an exhibit provided with the simulation.

There are a couple types of TBSs that you will want to familiarize yourself with.

  • Document Review Simulation (DRS) is a simulation that requires you to rely on various resources to review a document.
  • Research task is another type of TBS that you’ll only see in AUD, FAR, and REG. A research task expects you to research relevant authoritative literature and cite the appropriate guidance as indicated.

Written communications tasks (WCs)

A WC Task and a Task-Based Simulations (TBSs) are similar in that you are presented with scenarios must respond to. The purpose of the memo is to solve the problem and address the needs of the party designated in the scenario. The memo is to be written the same way a CPA would while working on the job.

The CPA Exam questions come in testlets that are specific to each question type. Each exam section has five testlets that are distinct to the section.

WHAT IS ON THE CPA EXAM? To prepare, you will want to familiarize yourself by reviewing the AICPA CPA Exam Blueprints. This document is published and approved by the Board of Examiners Of the American Institute of CPAs details the knowledge and skills required to qualify for initial licensure.:

CPA Exam Pass Rates

2019 saw a lift in cumulative pass rates for all 4 CPA Exam sections when compared to the previous year. The average cumulative pass rate for the CPA Exam in 2019 was 53.41%, which is the highest it has been since 2006 when the AICPA first began reporting pass rates. While this means that it is easier to pass the CPA Exam than ever before, you should not underestimate its difficulty or take your preparation lightly.

BEC continued to have the highest pass rate at close to 60% and FAR continued to have the lowest at around 46%.

2019 CPA Exam Pass Rates

Section Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Cumulative
AUD 48.56% 55.11% 51.94% 47.88% 51.01%
BEC 58.00% 59.74% 63.04% 58.61% 59.98%
FAR 44.43% 49.37% 50.29% 40.57% 46.31%
REG 50.23% 58.66% 58.41% 55.89% 56.34%

2018 CPA Exam Pass Rates

Section Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Cumulative
AUD 49.27% 54.70% 51.07% 48.54% 50.97%
BEC 56.43% 60.31% 60.17% 60.13% 59.35%
FAR 41.59% 49.17% 48.85% 44.57% 46.22%
REG 49.99% 55.75% 56.55% 50.22% 53.16%
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